There is sound and music all around us, but only certain sounds have the power to transport us into the sublime… What is the difference between sacred sound and ordinary sound? Each of us may define that boundary for ourselves, according to our intimate personal experience.
Perhaps some of us have barely tasted the magic of sacred sound and are thirsty for more… Perhaps some of us regularly access the infinite well and seek to share it more gracefully with others. Whatever our circumstance, let’s explore some of the defining features of sacred sound, so we can more readily access its powerful potential.
Sacred sound is alive with listening. It moves from silence and back to silence, because the Infinite is beyond words, beyond notes. Though That is a majesty beyond all power of description, all poetry, art, music, and dance seeks to describe it. By the attempt, we can trace the beauty back to its source and be transported beyond words, where only silence can convey the totality of union. Ordinary sound is more of a projection of the ordinary mind, expressing some worldly idea.
Sacred sound has the emotion of love. The practice of making sacred sound with devotion is the culmination of all other human emotions – pure love. It can either be an expression of intense yearning for reconnection to that love, or an expression of the joy and bliss we experience in the fullness of that connection. Ordinary sound is often the expression of other intense emotions, such as lust, longing, pride, anger, etc. It’s worth noting that since sound penetrates more deeply than other art forms into space — both into our inner state and into our surroundings— we will experience an intensification of whatever emotion we project with our sound, and we will project that emotion all around us to affect others.
Sacred sound creates an internal focus. When you produce or listen to sacred sound, your awareness is magnetized inward to the heart. Ordinary sound pulls the awareness outward into the senses, into memories of the past or hopes about the future.
Sacred sound leaves a residue of sāttva (purity). It will have tāmasic (grounding) and rājasic (activating) elements, because nothing in existence can be without a mixture of the 3 guṇas. However, sacred sound will leave the practitioner or the listener in a state of equanimity and peace. Ordinary sound may leave the listener in an energized, passionate state (rājasic) or dull, heavy or numbed (tāmasic).
Sacred sound expresses the natural voice. Each person’s voice, whether through their vocal cords or an external instrument, is a unique gift to creation. In the meditation on sacred sound, the practitioner seeks to connect to his/her natural voice and allow it uninhibited expression. Ordinary sound is often an imitation of a teacher, a style; it is judged by an external definition of perfect expression.
Sacred sound is for the pleasure of God alone. The practitioner’s audience is the inner Self. When the inner Self is pleased, that fullness is entirely its own reward. If it happens to pleases others, it’s an inconsequential overflow of the abundance of Self-satisfaction. Ordinary sound is often for entertainment of the audience or for regurgitation of intense emotions.
Sacred sound integrates all four levels of speech. There is an unbroken flow from the silence in the heart, to the subtle inner voice’s urge to express, to the mental formulation of words and melodies, to the audible expression of those sounds. Ordinary sound can be made when the heart and the mind are not in harmony, when the musician doesn’t feel like playing, or is thinking about something other than the music in that moment.
Sacred sound often contains an element of spontaneity. Being fully present in the current moment, the musician is used as an instrument for the ever-new inspiration. Whether the sound in that moment is simple, slow and deep, or complex and fast-moving, the development of his/her technical skills and acuity is the only limitation to creative freedom. When spontaneity is favored, there is not much room for the ego who relies on accomplishments for safety and self-esteem. Musical embellishments are an expression of the overflow of feeling, not a mechanical recitation of fast, complex patterns in order to impress the audience. Ordinary sound is often rote, memorized, and perfunctory.
*Note: In an ensemble format, such as a choir, orchestra, or band, more structure and memorized parts are required to maintain harmony. The element of spontaneity is often channeled by the conductor/leader, who weaves subtle variations into each performance.
Sacred sound requires a conducive environment. A sāttvic, pure vibratory atmosphere allows the intimacy of sacred sound to reach its potential. If listeners are present, they must also be in a receptive, prayerful state. This is why a sacred musician will likely be confused when asked to “sing a song” by an acquaintance. It would be like asking someone to have a full-body orgasm on a busy street corner while people are passing by eating peanuts, gossiping on their cell phones, and window shopping. Ordinary sound can be made in any environment and when the listeners are either critical, unconscious, or a mix of both.
*Note: Some sacred musicians are so steeped in the intimacy of their sacred practice that they can play in any environment. However, the full potential will always be most supported in a pure atmosphere.
What is YOUR definition of sacred sound? Please comment below and/or Contact Us to submit your thoughts.